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How to Avoid the Early AM Back-to-school Rush

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Now that a new school year is about to begin, the early morning routine and all that it entails often becomes a challenge for many families. Finding a way to be better organized – especially in the mornings – is a goal many parents have. Parents never intend to forget the class party cookies or deliberately dress their child in blue on “orange day.” Most of the time, parents are just so busy that becoming better organized can feel like one more thing to add to the “to do list.” There’s no right way to get organized but preparation, planning and being able to find “stuff” quickly is definitely part of the process.

morning rushOne of the greatest organizational challenges for working parents, especially those who have a child on the autism spectrum, is getting everyone out of the house ‘on time’ in the morning. The best success comes from keeping goals and expectations very simple.  Just getting everyone dressed with lunches, backpacks, diaper bags and briefcases in hand is enough.

Unfortunately, young children with autism have no sense of time and quickly come to believe that the definition of hurry is “Mommy yelling.” When encouraging and coaxing fail to work and parents resort to nagging, pleading, bribing and yelling, children learn that their parents spend more time focusing on them during times of resistance than during times of cooperation. Mornings like this often leave everyone frustrated, confused, exhausted and discouraged.

Here are some ideas that may help you organize and experience less hectic mornings:

  1. Prepare as much as possible the night before. Pick out clothes for the next day, including yours. If possible, pick out clothes for the entire week on Sunday night. Include underwear, socks and even hair accessories for girls. To save time in the morning prepare lunch boxes and leave them in the fridge overnight. And after you clear away the dinner things, set the breakfast table for the next morning. Schedule baths/showers/hair washing the night before, if possible. Gather permission forms, lunch money or notebooks and have them ready for morning.
  2. Keep items in the same spot. Children on the autism spectrum thrive on sameness so make things predictable by having a special place for everything. Place lunch boxes, backpacks and briefcases by the door or other designated space with homework and office work packed inside. Know what shoes everyone will be wearing and place those by the door. Looking for lost shoes at the last minute makes everyone frantic. Have diaper bag and baby equipment ready to go in the same spot as well.
  3. Have a consistent morning routine. Children are more cooperative and more comfortable when they know what to expect. Most children, especially those with sensitive temperaments or children on the autism spectrum, function best when there are no surprises. Create a word or picture chart with your child that they can refer to morning and night. When your child is off task simply ask “what’s next on your schedule?” Have stickers or other reinforcers for young children to place on the chart when they complete the steps.
  4. Consider establishing a no TV rule. Let’s face it TV can be a big distraction even for us adults. Children can easily become mesmerized by a new commercial, song or character and then you have to take precious time to draw them back into the present. Save yourself a step and keep the television and other screen machines off limits. If you really need to hear the news as you go through your morning routine, put the radio on.
  5. Pay attention to family temperaments. When planning your morning routine, remember that the early morning is definitely a time when temperamental differences are most noticeable – the slow to start child clashes with the mom or dad who is fast paced. Or the crabby child collides with the parent who is also out of sorts. Or the autistic child has a meltdown because a more flexible someone didn’t follow the routine. Use this information to create a realistic plan for your family.
  6. Avoid lectures. Instead, asking “what” and “how”, ask questions such as “what happens when you don’t get dressed in the morning?” and “How do you feel about missing the school bus?” Inquiries such as these will entice conversation with your children and help children think for themselves, whereas lectures may make them stop listening. Let children experience the natural consequences of procrastinating even if it means missing breakfast or forgetting their homework.
  7. Be realistic. Don’t expect miracles. Children approach life with a more relaxed, slower pace than we do, and we could all take a lesson from that. Even with seemingly flawless plans, unexpected events can always happen. For really important I can’t be late mornings, think out of the box and create special plans that children will find interesting or adventurous such as having your children go to sleep in their day clothes – comfortable sweats or shorts work well.

Occasionally, despite your best efforts, there will be a monkey wrench thrown into the mix. Know that this is to be expected and don’t lose heart because nothing is perfect. When your autistic child decides to be uncooperative or has a meltdown while preparing for school, simply get them ready with as little fuss as possible. Do not lecture, bargain or engage in a verbal battle; just matter-of-factly do what you need to do to leave as soon as you can without giving your child too much attention. Later on, reflect on the experience and see if you can pick up on any clues as to what made this happen and use it to remedy the situation for the future.

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For more detailed tips and suggestions that will help you maintain a stress-free early morning back-to-school routine check out my video series Top Ten Secrets to a Stress-free Morning with a Child on the Autism Spectrum 

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